Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Riding the Bus with My Sister can help.

Riding the Bus with My Sister: 21. August: The Loner Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the present, while waiting for a bus, Rachel and Beth overhear a white mother and daughter criticize a mixed-race family, calling them “disgusting” and “a disgrace.” They start to say the N-word, but Beth objects—she tells the mother and daughter that “what you’re saying iz wrong. Iz not nice.” Then, she and Rachel board Jack’s bus. Jack is tough and world-weary, but he also has a carefree grin.
Despite her lack of empathy for others, Beth can clearly tell the difference between right and wrong—and she’s fearless enough to stand up for her values. In particular, she recognizes that different forms of prejudice, discrimination, and inclusion are linked: it’s in her interests to fight racism not only because she’s in an interracial relationship, but also because people who support racial inclusivity are more likely to support disability justice, too.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
As the bus drives through a diverse neighborhood of immigrants, Beth tells Jack about the altercation with the mother and daughter. Rachel and Jack agree that Beth did a great thing by speaking up—Jack compares her to himself, because he’s also independent-minded. Jack explains that, after his parents died, he grew up with his grandmother. At just six years old, he started working on a truck, which made him independent and open-minded. He met immigrants from all around the world and learned to cook—he talks about his chicken pot pie recipe, which Rachel reproduces in the book.
The city’s ethnic diversity further shows why disability justice has such high stakes: it’s part of a much larger fight to make U.S. society more inclusive and egalitarian than it has been in the past. In historically homogenous, industrial, conservative regions like Beth’s corner of Pennsylvania, people like Beth and Jack can make a real difference. On a different note, Rachel’s decision to include Jack’s recipe in the book shows that she takes his passion and artistry seriously. This is an extension of the same empathy and concern that drives her to learn about all the other drivers’ lives and stories.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Jack tells Beth that she helped the mother and daughter, even if they didn’t actually listen to her. He explains how, one time, a woman with a drinking problem boarded his bus and said that people were following her. Jack had trained as a community service counselor, so he directed the woman to the appropriate detox program. It worked: the woman quit drinking. Jack remarks that he loves helping others but likes to face his own problems on his own. Beth says that she’s the same way.
Jack embodies the way that drivers serve as essential connectors and resources for the community, because their jobs are public-facing and their buses are designed to serve as many people as possible. Indeed, the fact that the woman came to him for help suggests that such community resources are no longer widely available in the U.S.—which speaks to the urgent need to rebuild them. In fact, despite his role, Jack also suffers from the increasing loneliness and isolation of life in the modern U.S.
Themes
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Rachel states that Beth’s life embodies American democratic values—especially independence. Beth makes her own decisions, regardless of what other people think is best for her. For instance, when Rachel and Vera drive Beth to the supermarket, she insists on only buying $50 worth of food, even though she knows she’ll have to return in a few days. Vera no longer helps Beth shop or tries to convince her to eat healthier food, because she doesn’t listen. In the past, Vera oversaw group homes, but now, her job is to help people with developmental disabilities achieve self-determination. Beth asks for less help from Vera than the agency thinks she needs, but it’s her choice. When Beth returns to the car with her unhealthy groceries, Vera calls Beth “the most independent person I know” and says that this makes her job easy.
By linking Beth’s lifestyle to the American national spirit, Rachel again turns stereotypes about people with developmental disabilities on their head. Indeed, she also implies that the way the U.S. treats people with disabilities shows whether it lives up to its own deepest values. Vera respects Beth’s autonomy—or supports the principle of self-determination—by letting Beth make her own decisions about issues like shopping and caretaking, even when a different decision would obviously be healthier or more practical for her. In Rachel’s eyes, this shows that the system is succeeding.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Riding the Bus with My Sister LitChart as a printable PDF.
Riding the Bus with My Sister PDF
On the bus, Jack comments that “independence […] can have its drawbacks,” like loneliness. For instance, he has been single for 22 years because he hasn’t met anyone as independent as him. He keeps thinking about a girl from high school; he imagines how his life would be if he married her and became a chef. He says that people should follow their dreams and hold onto the people they love. He brings out a container and offers Rachel his red beet eggs. Again, she includes Jack’s recipe in the book.
Rachel’s romantic life, like Jack’s, consists mostly of fantasy and fear. In fact, Jack’s comments accurately describe Rachel’s feelings about her own romantic life: she’s profoundly lonely because she avoids seeking out love, and she avoids seeking out love because she’s afraid of intimacy and losing her independence. Instead, both Jack and Rachel express love and connection through other channels—Jack through his cooking and Rachel through her writing.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Beth finally goes to an eye doctor, who finds that she has two rare conditions, which have left her nearly blind. Rachel is frustrated at Beth’s refusal to cooperate with doctors and care for her health. The eye doctor recommends surgery, but it’s up to Beth. Fortunately, she agrees to the procedure.
The principle of self-determination says that Beth should make her own medical choices. But Rachel is still uneasy about the idea that Beth should be able to harm herself, especially when she doesn’t fully understand the consequences of her medical decisions. This again shows how important support and accommodation services are, in order to give people with developmental disabilities the context they need in order to make wise decisions.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
On Jack’s bus, Beth tells Rachel that she wishes Jack could meet the girl he loved in high school. Rachel tells Beth that she wishes she had the resource guide that Jack got while training as a counselor. She really means that she wishes she had “a guide to being a good sister” to Beth, but instead, she says that the book could help her get Beth new eyes. Beth asks if they could be purple. Rachel wonders how Beth would be without her disability, and what her own life would be like. She turns to Beth and promises to try to help her find purple eyes. The chapter ends with Jack’s recipe for his grandmother’s chocolate mayonnaise cake.
Rachel fantasizes about having the “guide to being a good sister” because she knows that the moral dilemmas she and Beth face have serious consequences but no right answers. For instance, as she contemplates Beth’s eye problems, she struggles to choose the right balance between protecting Beth’s health and respecting Beth’s (often misguided) wishes. Rachel is trying as hard as she can to help Beth—which is the most anyone can do—but she will never definitively know if she made the best decision.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes